Time to make your resolutions! Set new goals for the future! 10 Things to Add to your Money To-Do list right away! Get fit and healthy in 2013! Five things you must do this week to make this year your best ever!
I have read all of these as e-mail subjects in my inbox in the last few days, and I confess that I haven’t opened a single one of the messages. Honestly, they stress me out. They make me feel like there’s some sort of deadline looming that I must meet…a kind of do-or-die day for self-improvement.
We have this practice as a society of embracing self-improvement projects at the beginning of every new year. We’re going to lose weight. We’re going to control our spending. We’re going to read a new book every month. We’re going to write letters the old fashioned way to people we love. We’re going to stop smoking, or stop cursing, or be nicer to our kids. We’re going to eat healthier and alphabetize our spice racks and always remember to floss our teeth. We are going to beBetter At Everything.
It’s kind of exhausting, really.
The problem with new year’s resolutions is that they aren’t new for very long. We start out completely committed, filled with fervor, ready to take on our cluttered closets, our bloated waistlines, the whole world. Out with the old! It sounds great.
The thing is, “out with the old” only works if we can somehow keep the “new” from going out, too, within a few weeks
or a month. I start out with good intentions…I’ll organize my house! and I’m soon on a roll, purging our old clothes and cleaning out my pantry and sorting the crayons and markers by color. Before long, I’m feeling bogged down and a bit frustrated that I don’t have a perfect set of cute matching bins on the closet shelf to make everything just so. Then I start resenting my
family for not being on board with my organized house plan, then I start leaving a dish in the sink here or a little pile of mail on the counter over there, and then before long, I’m annoyed and irritated and wishing I’d done a more perfect job of sticking to my plan.
Do you know that feeling? It’s the one you sometimes get in early to mid-February when the burst of energy you had in January has passed. You have slipped up so many times that it hardly seems worth starting over again. The year stretches out ahead, an unbroken line of days…how long is it until spring, again?
This can be a tough time of year. Though we know the days are lengthening, it still gets darkso early. There are no “big” holidays on the horizon for decorating or gift-buying or making special foods. We might start to feel kind of fatigued from working so hard at our resolutions. Before we know it, we start hanging laundry on our treadmills instead of running on them or start buying frozen lasagnas at Costco instead of cooking healthy meals from scratch.
What if there was a way to feel good about making small, positive changes in our lives without the whole “I’m going to do this…oops, I didn’t really follow through and now I feel bad about it…oh, forget it, I’ll just eat some Oreos” cycle?
Guess what- we can break this cycle. We don’t have to change everything just because it’s a new year. And maybe we shouldn’t be focusing so much on all the things we need to do better just because it is January. There is something to be said for taking an honest look at our lives and embracing who we are, faults and all…and then finding ways to emphasize the things we love most about our lives (and remind ourselves to be gentle with ourselves in those moments when we fail to meet our own high standards).
Many people have been writing recently about Guiding Words. Instead of making new year’s resolutions, you can choose a single word that resonates with you as you consider how you want your life to feel and look. The idea is to choose a word that helps focus your energy, helps you find direction as you think about the coming year. There is real wisdom in choosing a direction (represented by a single word) and then leaning in that direction instead of always trying to force ourselves to embrace a bunch of challenging changes at once (and then beating ourselves up when we fall short).
The concept of Guiding Words isn’t new, exactly…Ali Edwards has been using Guiding Words in her work for years now…but as more and more writers and creators start to identify words that inspire them, there are more resources available for the rest of us. Mama Scout has a great journaling idea on her site that can help you identify your own Guiding Word.
Here is some advice from Ali Edwards on choosing a Guiding Word:
One big advantage I see to choosing a Guiding Word instead of making traditional resolutions is that it’s almost impossible to feel like you’ve failed. Since a Guiding Word shapes us and helps us move in a direction instead of identifying specific things we need to achieve, anything we do that is inspired by our chosen word is a success. For example, if my desire is to be more present with my family, I might choose the word Focus. Then, each time I manage to ignore another distraction to concentrate fully on my husband or my children, I am embodying my Guiding Word.
Can you picture how great that might feel? You choose a word, and then you take actions that make that word true in your life.You make it happen. You allow your word to have a positive effect on your life, and you make small changes a little at a time. It has a cumulative effect. Come February, or March, or June, you are still going. It’s working, and you’re doing it. No negative self-talk or attack of perfectionism is required.
Consider giving yourself a break this January..instead of taking on your whole world at once and resolving to fix every imperfection you perceive, think about finding a word that will inspire you to live more deeply and more intentionally throughout the year. At the end of the year when you look back, you might not even regret having skipped the whole new year’s resolution process…and maybe you’ll end up resolving not to make any resolutions next year, either.